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Amherst ambulance fees set to go up to support increased staffing

The Select Board this week voted unanimously to adjust the fees for both basic life support service and the two types of advanced life support service its ambulance crews provide.

Town Manager John Musante said the fee increases, which go into effect July 1, will allow the town to continue having first-rate care and to use the ambulance fund to meet the $75,000 net payroll increase caused by a change to the department’s minimum staffing policy.

“These fees will raise more than enough to do that,” Musante said.

A contract provision with the firefighters union, through June 30, 2016, suggests a minimum of eight paramedics and EMTs be on duty when the University of Massachusetts and Amherst and Hampshire colleges are in session. The minimum staffing level had been seven until this new contract. There are 46 firefighters on the permanent force.

Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson said this staffing philosophy will ensure four ambulances can be on the road at all times. “This means one more person on the ground to handle emergency calls,” Nelson said.

The department still will be able to have nine paramedics and EMTs on duty on spring weekends from 5 to 9 p.m., and 13 on duty weekends from 9 p.m. to 7 a.m., with financial assistance from UMass. All five ambulances can run at these times and a fire engine is also equipped with paramedic tools.

Projections are that the ambulance fund will rise by $185,831, or 8.7 percent, from $2.14 million to $2.32 million.

Between July 1, 2012, and June 30, 2013, the department handled 4,361 EMS calls, a 39-call, or 1 percent, increase from the previous year. This marks a 10.5 percent jump in calls from the 3,945 handled five years earlier.

The ambulance fund is also used to pay for capital needs, through the Joint Capital Planning Committee process, such as new ambulances and equipment.

“We’re just trying to cover our expenses,” Nelson said.

The most significant increase is to advanced life support 2, typically involving a cardiac event or severe trauma and which requires extensive use of medical supplies. The current $800 rate will rise by $200 for a 25 percent increase.

The lesser advanced life support is going up from $655 to $730 — a $75, or 11 percent, increase. Basic life support is increasing by $75, from $555 to $630, a 14 percent increase.

Musante said a comprehensive review of the fees was undertaken by Nelson and treasurer/collector Clare McGinnis, allowing the change to the base rates and still falling within the range of provider rates in western Massachusetts.

There is no change to various extra fees, such as the $190 to install a cardiac monitor and the $140 to provide airway service.

In a memo to the board, Nelson wrote that the cost for emergency medical supplies has grown steadily since the last adjustments. “The proposed rate increase will address our need to keep pace with increasing operating expenses, keep our overall rate schedule at or below the average for the area while maintaining a high standard of care,” he wrote.

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